James Via has high hopes and big dreams for his family. A single dad, Via juggles three kids and a 60-hour workweek as manager of a New Haven, Conn., Burger King. But ask him what he would do if he could sneak out for a few hours and his answer might surprise you. “I wish I could be at the school every day,” he says. “If my job allowed me to do that, I would.”
Via’s children, Jameisha, 12, Michael, 11, and Naté, 10, attend the King/Robinson Magnet School in New Haven. He comes to campus at least three times a week. “Knowing what my kids are getting out of school is important,” he explains. The school encourages his visits; his kids like him there, too. “It gives them a definite sense of pride,” says Via.
Spending time on campus has many benefits. Sometimes Via attends meetings with teachers or checks in on his children. Michael, whom his father describes as mischievous and full of energy, “doesn’t even think of misbehaving when I’m there,” Via says. “He really likes when I’m there on a good note.”
Encounters at the school have allowed Via to connect with other parents as well as teachers and administrators. One parent recommended that Via label things at home to improve Michael’s reading skills. Assistant principal George Flanagan suggested that Via keep his son in sports to help him focus his energy. One teacher even assigned Michael a specific job in the classroom that allows him to get up from his desk periodically.
Keeping the kids motivated and on track with their studies can be tough while Via is at work. But his children participate in King/Robinson’s after-school program, and Jameisha and Michael also keep busy playing on sports teams. Via’s mom, Alonda, moved back to New Haven from Virginia to help him with the kids, too. “Between me and her, we make sure they get their homework done,” he says.
Every so often, Via is reminded that his efforts at school and at home are paying off. Recently, he sat down with Michael and drew Earth and Mars to teach him about space travel as it relates to math and time. Michael told his teacher about his dad’s visually aided lecture. “She said he was really happy I did that with him,” Via recalls.
Via says it’s nice when kids at school recognize him from his job. In the past, he has provided crowns for the cast members in his daughter’s school play; currently, he’s trying to arrange a fundraiser in which King/Robinson will keep a percentage of the proceeds from his restaurant during a specific time period.
Via served in the Marine Reserve for five years; recently, he helped school faculty members coordinate a collection of candies and toiletries for a unit stationed overseas. He also took part in a weekly focus group; the group brainstormed ways to engage the students in activities within the community.
If more time opened up for him to help at school, Via would help Michael with his reading and writing; he’d also like to help Naté, his “quietest child,” become more social. But for now, he can be satisfied knowing his involvement is making a big difference for his children.